New Zealand, 2008
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Lake Hawea, Makarora, and Haast
On Saturday, February 16, we left for the west coast
after a layover in Cromwell, where we had been before for a couple of
days (page 7). At the Cromwell supermarket, one of the cashiers amazingly
remembered that when we were last there, we had cycled about 700 kilometres.
She asked us how far we'd gone since then. When we told her, about 2000
altogether, she was amazed and proudly announced that she had just cycled
150 km (on the rail trail). We were amazed that she remembered our previous
visit so well!
We headed for Lake Hawea via Wanaka on Route 6, but
shortly after the junction with Route 8A, we saw a secondary road to Lake
Hawea, bypassing Wanaka, and decided to try it. It was our first "new
territory" for this ride. It was a beautiful, quiet road, with snow-dusted
mountains on the near horizon. We passed through an area called Hawea
Flat not an enticing name, and well off the tourism map and
we both felt it was the place we would want to live, if we were to live
in New Zealand.
Riding from the hills down to Hawea Flat
possibly our favorite spot in New Zealand so far
In 65 kilometres we reached Lake Hawea, lined near the
village with expensive vacation homes, much like Lake Wanaka, but a smaller
place without all the clutter of tourism. We stayed for the night at a
nice enough campground on the lake. It happened that a group of conservationists
from Australia were there on a tour, and they had arranged a guest speaker
in the recreation room. We were invited to sit in, and did so. The speaker
was a retired New Zealand farmer, elderly and very knowledgeable. He told
us about the impact of imported animals and plants on native species,
and about New Zealand's efforts to eradicate some of the most destructive
invasives and save endangered native birds and bush.
Fixing a picnic at Lake Hawea
Camping at Lake Hawea
On Sunday we set out for Makarora. After the first noteworthy
climb of the day, we ran into a group of cyclists at the top, Hawea Lookout.
One of them was Susan Hardy, from Norwich, Vermont! She's on the right
in the photo below, but we didn't ask for a close-up since she had just
suffered a faceplant the day before and was somewhat bruised and cut up.
She was a game cyclist, however, and was cheerful and on the road again.
Cycling hills above Lake Hawea
American cycling group at Hawea Lookout
|Also on this stretch of road, we were overtaken
by a Kiwi cyclist on a road bike who offered to take our camera and
ride ahead to take a photo of us as we approached. Wally hesitated
only a second and handed it over; the cyclist soon disappeared in
the distance. But sure enough, he was waiting up ahead, and the photo
to the right (of us riding two abreast something we never do
ordinarily) is the one he took. We forget his name, but he was really
nice, and he had just moved to Hawea Flat (lucky fellow!)
Us, taken by a Kiwi cyclist
Near Makarora, the wind turned against us.
We made it to Makarora before mid
afternoon, only 55 kilometres, but the last 10 or 15 were in the
face of a tough headwind. We discovered that the campground there
had a swimming pool. (Barb didn't go in but Wally did; it was great!)
The campground was a busy place, with backpacker buses and tour
groups. Also, Makorora is where we met a few cyclists whom we continued
to see for the next couple of days a British couple on a
tandem and a younger Swiss couple whom we'd also seen in Cromwell.
(They would all invariably pass us even though we started earlier,
but we seemed to end up in the same places.)
Our destination after Makarora
was Haast, the southern gateway to Westland, also known as "Wetland,"
where it can rain 8 to 12 metres (24 to 36 FEET) in a year. It's
also known for strong winds and annoying sand flies (like our
black flies.) It's the least populated part of New Zealand, but
also the most wildly beautiful, most people say.
at Cameron Flats, soon before Haast Pass
Right: Leaving Makarora in early
Thunder Creek Falls, on the descent from
The principal obstacle on the way
to Haast was Haast Pass. It is the lowest pass over the Southern
Alps, but we still expected it to be a challenge. Climbing to
the pass was work, to be sure, but it was much easier in the direction
we were heading, north. When we started the huge descent (above)
from about 600 metres (1800 feet) to sea level, we were glad
that we had climbed the easier side! We were also glad that our
brakes were working well.
Near the bottom of the pass we ran into a VBT tour group
headed up the pass, in what we take to be the "wrong direction."
We asked the tour leader why they configured the tour that way, when it
would be so much easier for guests if they arranged to cycle in the opposite
direction. Interestingly, he said that he'd never thought about it. By
the way, we passed lots of cyclists riding north to south and wondered
why. We also wondered how many of those in the van-supported groups made
it all the way up the pass under their own steam.
Between the pass and the village,
we walked to a waterfall called "Roaring Billy." Not
many of the falls are terribly impressive because the summer has
been so dry, and this was no exception. However the walk through
rain forest and bush was wonderful.
Haast Visitor Centre
At Haast, we ended up in the same
campground with our British and Swiss acquaintances (photos of them
in the next section.) The campground/motel had probably the best
equipped communal kitchen and most impressive lounge of any campground
we've visited, but we couldn't find anything we wanted to eat in
the local store, so we bought fish and chips from a truck. Not that
bad, reheated in the well equipped kitchen!
The lounge where we camped at Haast
The communal kitchen